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Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Politeama Pratese, Prato

22nd March 2024

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso - Politeama Pratese, Prato

I’d regard Banco del Mutuo Soccorso as one of the top three most important Italian prog bands so the opportunity to see them for the third time, in an Italian city I’d not visited before, was too good to pass up especially as the travel arrangements were, on paper, quite straightforward and booking a ticket was far easier than when I went to see them for the first time, at a club on the outskirts of Brescia in 2018. On that occasion I’d bought my ticket online but I had to fill out a form at the club to become a member before being allowed to pick up my ticket and later missed a good proportion of their performance attempting to get a taxi back to my hotel at half-past midnight. What I didn’t know until the night before travelling on this latest trip was that Trenitalia had called a national rail strike which was going to affect the journey back to the airport for the flight home.
The sextet I’d seen on the two previous occasions consisted of original member Vittorio Nocenzi on keyboards and vocals; guitarists Nicola Di Già and Filippo Marcheggiani; vocalist Tony D’Alessio; Marco Capozi on bass guitar; and drummer Fabio Moresco. This time the group reverted to its original formation, with just the one guitarist (Marcheggiani) and two keyboard players – Vittorio Nocenzi being joined by his son Michelangelo in the role previously taken by Vittorio’s brother Gianni; one other change was the replacement of Moresco with Dario Esposito.

The 2018 gig pre-dated the release of Transiberiana so the set list was comprised of material from 1972 up to 1983 and I caught a couple of songs I’d not heard before, Canto di primavera (the title track from their 1979 album) and Paolo Pà (a track sympathetically addressing transvestism from their 1980 album Urgentissimo, said to about a friend of the group and banned on Italian national radio); the concert I attended in Genoa in February 2020 was part of the Transiberiana… il viaggio continua tour, so along with the classic early 70’s material they played new songs Eterna Transiberiana and L’imprevisto but I think they also played Canto di primavera again and another song I’d not heard, Moby Dick (from Banco, 1983).

Like for the Politeama Genovese concert where the NH Genova Centro is conveniently close (so convenient that Banco were staying there, too) my choice of hotel in Prato was less than ten minutes’ walk away and I got to the theatre before the doors opened. The concert started a little later than scheduled as attendees were still making their way to the auditorium at 9.10 pm, commencing with the epic Metamorfosi from the band’s 1972 self-titled debut, affectionately known as ‘Salvadanaio’ (piggy bank). This is one of my favourite tracks, Banco at their most ELP-like where they mix light-touch jazzy piano with bombastic organ and bluesy guitar, and it supplied D’Alessio with a dramatic backdrop for his vocal entrance towards the end of the song.
In addition to Metamorfosi, the set contained three other songs from the first album, Il Giardino del Mago, R.I.P. and Traccia. Cento mani e cento occhi was the sole contribution from Darwin! and Non mi rompete was the only song from Io sono nato libero but this material, recorded in 1972 and 1973 easily provided sufficient reason for me to travel from the UK to attend the concert. I’m actually a fan of Banco’s entire 70’s output up to and including Di Terra, so it was good to recognise Il ragno from Come in un’ultima cena and I also like Transiberiana, represented at the concert by Eterna Transiberiana, which I think acted as a stepping-stone to a return to their 70s heyday with last year’s Orlando: Le forme del amore. There’s much to admire about the latest album, so I was a little surprised that we only got to hear one song, Non mi spaventa più l'amore.
Diehard prog fans tend to ignore Banco’s work from the 80s, me included, but this period was very popular in Italy, demonstrated both by chart success and the Prato audience’s reaction to Lontado da, Paolo Pà and Moby Dick, the first of these came early in the set, and the latter two, immediately preceded by the song Canto di primavera, were played close to the end of the concert. The studio version of Lontado da is soft rock while Paolo Pà and Moby Dick are electronic pop. Live, these songs had different arrangements and though noticeably lacking in complexity compared to everything else the band played, D’Alessio had the audience singing and clapping along, so I couldn’t possibly complain that they were included at the concert. Their performance of Canto di primavera was joyous and displayed an intricate structure befitting of the group’s work from the 70s.
During the Genoa gig I realised that one of the features of Banco live was that Nocenzi enjoyed spending time on between-song announcements, as the format was very similar to that I’d witnessed in Brescia. As far as I could understand with my beginners knowledge of Italian, his audience interaction was along the same lines in Prato, where the band were introduced after Metamorfosi and Nocenzi added a few words about the band finally getting to play in the city again and how the Covid pandemic had affected their tour schedule. During the pause between Eterna Transiberiana and Cento mani e cento occhi he chatted while he checked the tuning of his mini-Moog and informed us that the much-loved 50 year old instrument could be a little temperamental.
The music didn’t start up immediately after the band returned to the stage for an encore because the gig also marked Michelangelo Nocenzi’s birthday, so there was a break while a birthday cake (with lighted candles) and sparkling wine was brought onto the stage to a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’. Once the candle flames had been successfully extinguished and Michelangelo embraced by his father and the other bandmates, we were treated to an extended version of the classic Non mi rompete, an excellent way to end the evening.

I made my way to the stage at the end of the performance and congratulated D’Alessio on a wonderful gig and fulfilled a promise to say ‘ciao!’ to tour manager Lorella Brambilla before she was whisked off stage by the singer. With music and musicianship like that, in a city I’d not previously visited but became increasingly fond of over the course of my stay, the inconvenience of travel to Italy to see one of the greats of progressive rock was inconsequential.
A train strike may seem like a problem but I side with the striking workers. In any case, the return journey from Prato to Pisa worked out well in the end. I’d booked tickets on a coach from the Guidoni Tram T2 station just outside Florence to Pisa airport as soon as we’d heard about the rail strike; other coach tickets from Prato to Florence were cancelled after our arrival in Prato when we worked out the pick-up wasn’t a five minute walk from our hotel and didn’t actually stop at Guidoni Tram T2, so we asked the hotel’s reception to book us a taxi for that short leg of the journey instead.
I’ll be back!

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